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Individual: Lanford Wilson

Lanford Wilson (1937-2011) was a playwright, a librettist, and a theater producer. Born and raised in Missouri, he spent most of his life in New York—first in Manhattan, and then in Sag Harbor, on Long Island. He arrived in New York in 1962, after studying art, art history, and playwriting at Southwest Missouri State College, San Diego State College, and the University of Chicago. Soon, he found his way to Joe Cino’s Café Cino where he began mounting productions of his original plays—including one-acts like “So Long at the Fair” (in 1963), and “The Madness of Lady Bright” (in 1964). He began his short, but significant, association with La MaMa in 1964, when Tom O’Horgan directed two of Wilson’s plays—“Home Free” and “No Tresspassing”—on a double-bill. A year later, La MaMa produced Wilson’s “Balm in Gilead”—a full length play, set in an all-night coffee shop, that revolves around a heroin addict, a transvestite prostitute, several hustlers, and a young woman recently arrived in New York. (The play was famously revived in 1984, in a production directed by John Malkovich.) Wilson went on to co-found the Circle Repertory Theater, where many of his later plays were staged. Several of these productions—including “The Fifth of July” (which, in its original version, starred Christopher Reeve, Jeff Daniels, and Swoosie Kurtz) and “Burn This”— found success on Broadway. “The distinguishing hallmark of Mr. Wilson’s work”—according to Wilson’s New York Times obituary—could be found both the style of “his dialogue” (which was “authentic, gritty, often overlapping”) and “his characters” who “tended toward the socially marginalized; among other things, he was “noted for being one of the first mainstream playwrights to create central, meaningful gay and lesbian characters.” Wilson received a wide range of awards for his work, including the Pulitzer Prize (for his play “Talley’s Folley”) in 1980.
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